I’m working on an anticipation movie set in Paris, maybe around 2030. Visually, it will be a blend of real shots of Paris as it is now (Haussmanian architecture, old balconies) and futuristic giant screens, with maybe some hi-tech zeppelins (via CGI elements).

So I’m wondering how to slightly make everyday city sounds (cars, sirens, trains, etc.) sound a bit futuristic, without being too sci-fi! It’s not Batman or Oblivion, it’s Paris in 20-30 years, so I’m not sure that stutter effects on vehicles would fit. In some shots we see cars (from now) and I would like to tweak them a bit, but in a realistic way. Any ideas?

(I dream that in 30 years, it will be quieter than now.)

  • 2
    LOVE this question. More like this, please. Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 16:20

7 Answers 7


You'll probably still want to ground the sounds in real modern day engines, and then do a couple of things to make them futuristic:

1 - process the modern engines:

probably the simplest thing is eq - often doing a big midrange scoop makes things sound cleaner and more hifi, so that's an option.

You could also add some phase or delay to what's left (in moderation) to start warping the sound into something a little less familiar

2 - layer other elements:

samplers and synths are great tools here because you have direct control over the pitch, which will be important as you mimic the revs of the engines. If you use samplers, you can go gritty (like distorted guitar stuff) or you can go with cleaner rolling and fluttering tones. With synths you can probably stick to the cleaner stuff that has some nice movement built in.

In the end though, the process is really one of telling yourself the story of the physics and mechanics of the future cars and then designing sounds around that story.

If the cars are electric and don't use combustion engines that would drive your sound one way. If they're combustion, but use magnetic propulsion, that would drive it another.

Find the story behind the physics. That's the important thing.

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    I like this answer. I really believe that the 'story' should drive the sound design and vice versa. This also means that if the actual scenario/script doesn't have room for these kinds of 'stories' (wether it's engine or ambience related), you have to work really hard to get it to 'fit' into the film. So in addition to what Rene says, also dig into the scenario for opportunities and limitations to your sound design and if possible discuss this with the director. He could have more ideas already. Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 15:02
  • Thanks René i will try it , great ideas. To Arnoud , the movie is about virtual Reality with many mental interfaces (like an ipad in your mind) so yes : We can alter sounds
    – user7762
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 17:58
  • Hi René, I explained further how I finally made these futuristic cars Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 10:47

I like the idea that cars are quieter in the future. They are becoming more fuel efficient after all.

This was posted up on reddit today, it's interesting the difference just 2 years make in engine sounds!

  • Very interesting, thank's a lot for posting this link!
    – gaborous
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 19:36
  • It's only one year different. Last race in 2013 was november, and first race 2014 is march so a 4 month gap between the loud car and quiet car (of course, it took longer than 4 months to develop the new engines)
    – Luke
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 5:04
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    Notice how in the 2013 part everyone is wearing protective headphones and in the 2014 you can't see them anywhere. Cool progress. Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 11:16
  • Sorry, I meant 1 year but 4 months is crazy. I'm not clued up on racing though. Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 17:56

You provide an interesting direction, that you could explore further:

Why not make all cars quiet? What's left is just the tire noise of the cars, which you could color a bit to make the cars a bit more diverse. As a result, background sounds and atmos is more apparent, sirens stand out more but don't have to be as loud, the streets are more peaceful and less chaotic sounding.

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    interesting perspective EMV. it's like a self fulfilling prophecy :) paris without car noise (and gasses) in 30 years, nice! Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 15:03
  • From an engineering point of view, it should be noted that electric cars today would already by silent by all means. That they aren't has to do with practicalities: Silent cars are a danger to pedestrians who are used to hearing cars. So from a practical point of view I wouldn't count on cars being inaudible, but who knows - also artistic license.
    – Voo
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 9:22
  • @Voo that's why I wrote quiet, not silent or inaudible. Above 30 km/h, the tires make every car audible, regardless of the method of propulsion. Below that, it might be necessary to add sound, which is a whole other discussion :)
    – EMV
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 10:06

In 30 years it is highly possible that most cars are electric cars. So I would go for muted motor sounds for a sound that everybody knows, combined with some kind of electric motor. Maybe record car sounds from a distance (Best would be in a very dry environment with some distance to get a more clean appeal) or rerecord stuff trough different materials to get a muted effect. Then apply this effect to all other car sounds you recorded. Also one thing that always, always, always sounds great for electric machines is to record everyday electronic devices like the motor of a printer, the dynamo of a bike or even better car related motors like the one opening and closing the windows and then pitch it down to give it some "bigness".

For example, play around with those samples


  • Great advice , i will also dig through the motors electrix library from Frank Bry
    – user7762
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 18:01
  • Hi Tobias, I explained further how I finally made these futuristic cars, and thanks for your samples Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 10:48
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    Cool works fine! The trick with harsh topend frequencies in a movie context are short reverbs. (IMHO) Then the sound gets washed out and more natural! Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 17:23

Hi everyone and thank you very much for all these good advices. This is how I finally made the sounds of futuristic cars i was looking for.

First I applied the technique of Rene, equalising sounds of real cars pass from the Sound Collector's club, except the synthesizer layer (not so trained manipulating it). I then applied a LoAir to generate subharmonics. This first layer was very interesting but with the music, it wasn't enough. Then i layered electric motors sounds as Tobias suggested. The problem was that these electric sounds are full of hi frequencies, so it's difficult to blend with the real engine sound : when it appears and disappears, your hear notice it.

In parallel, i created strange roomtones using a convolution reverb and soundclips as Impulse responses : trains, electrics motors (Frank Bry), waterphones (Andreas Usenbenz), metal resonances (Tim Prebble),and sci-fi stuff from Jedsound's Transform library . The technique is described by Douglas Murray here :


Then I loaded snippets of these custom made roomtones into the Reaktor instrument created by Melted sounds "WHoosh", and played with it creating slow motion whooshes from this material.

At the end, I layered the bests with the real car passes and that's it !!!

And as EMV said "As a result, background sounds and atmos is more apparent, sirens stand out more but don't have to be as loud"

I have put some exemples on souncloud here :





More info about "Whoosh" from Melted sounds here :


  • Thanks a bunch for posting back with what you ended up doing.
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 13:22

Like others have said find the story behind the car sound.

If they are electric cars they don't have to be silent. There are actually laws concerning the sound (or lack of it) in Europe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_vehicle_warning_sounds

Based on this you could play with the idea of cars just playing sounds of older combustion engine cars. Doing it in overly unrealistic way could work - engine sounds could be intentionally too short loops looped and overly pitched or crossfaded from engine sample to another when car speed changes. Or maybe people can download whatever sounds they want to their cars and you see some small hatchback sports car sounding like a truck and big monster car sounding like a F1 car. Eq'ing or using convolution to make it sound like coming from a speaker could be used to exaggerate the effect.

If they are still combustion engines they are probably very small super super super turbocharged 0.5 litre engines or maybe multiple turbocharged 0.1l engines (like that would make any sense). If they are running on hydrogen maybe it alters the sound somehow?

Good luck with the project :)

  • fantastic ideas! Welcome to the forum! Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 6:52
  • @JayJennings whoa, whoa, what forum? It's a Q&A site, man! Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 11:16
  • Must... resist.. flagging that ^ ;) Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 18:17
  • People working on the problematic of the sound of future cars :youtube.com/watch?v=1HuWWaQu5Vg Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 10:55

this is a simplistic tip, but if you start with sounds of very modern cars, high performance cars without loud engines, and use varispeed and pitch them up a bit, you may find results you like.

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